Monthly Archives: November 2015

Quit smoking to stay sober

This was some research featured on Eureka Alert in September and looked at the issue of recovering alcoholics and smoking.  The subtitle was ‘smokers with a history of alcohol problems who continue smoking are at greater risk of relapsing’ and the research was carried out at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health

quit smokingAdult smokers with a history of problem drinking who continue smoking are at a greater risk of relapsing three years later compared with adults who do not smoke. Results of the study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the City University of New York appear online in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Most adults who have alcohol problems also smoke cigarettes. Yet while treatments for alcohol abuse traditionally require concurrent treatment for problems around illicit substance use, smoking has not generally been part of alcohol or substance use treatment. According to lead author Renee Goodwin, PhD, the thinking in clinical settings has been that asking patients to quit cigarette smoking while they try to stop drinking is “too difficult,” and that continued nicotine dependence would make no difference in the long run.

“Quitting smoking will improve anyone’s health,” says Goodwin, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health. “But our study shows that giving up cigarettes is even more important for adults in recovery from alcohol since it will help them stay sober.”

The researchers followed 34,653 adults with a past alcohol use disorder enrolled in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) who were assessed at two time points, three years apart, on substance use, substance use disorders, and related physical and mental disorders. Only those with a history of alcohol use disorders according to DSM-IV criteria were included in the final sample. Daily smokers and nondaily smokers had approximately twice the odds of relapsing to alcohol dependence compared with nonsmokers. The relationships held even after controlling for factors, including mood, anxiety, illicit drug use disorders, and nicotine dependence.

It’s unclear why smoking makes alcohol relapse more likely, but the study’s authors point to past research on the behavioral and neurochemical links between smoking and alcohol, and the detrimental effects of smoking on cognition.

This makes sense to me and this is a good study sample size so the research findings are robust.  Whether you stop together or one at a time is down to the individual and Club Soda did some great blog posts about this recently which you can read here:

It’s Different for Girls

benchgirlHave you ever seen this photo accompanying an article about women and drinking?  The ubiquitous #benchgirl photographic image from 2008 gets a mention in this excellent presentation (the back story being that whenever this image appears in the media accompanying a new story about alcohol, researchers take to Twitter with the hashtag benchgirl as it has become so well known!)

This was a webinar entitled ‘It’s different for girls’ presented by Soberistas and featuring Dr Sally Marlow a research scientist from King’s College London.  Dr Marlow is also featured in the excellent documentary film A Royal Hangover.

Within this 50 minute presentation Sally discusses:

  • Perceptions about women and alcohol
  • The truth about women and drinking
  • Differences between men and women when it comes to alcohol – biological, including the telescope effect;  psychological, including the self-medication hypothesis and social.
  • Stigma, shame and barriers to getting help
  • The abstinence violation effect (which I discussed here)

It is an excellent discussion, very informative and I highly recommend 🙂

Please do share your thoughts and comments below!

Sharing success

As you know earlier this year I teamed up with Club Soda to launch and run a How to Quit Workshop here in the UK.  It is based on my Udemy online course material and this week-end we ran our fourth one of the year 🙂

club soda advertOne of our attendees at the first one in May (who wrote the lovely review entitled ‘Wonderful Stop Drinking workshop’ to the right hand side of this piece on the website) came back and joined us again for the September workshop sharing with the attendees their story.  She has very kindly given me permission to share her success and what she said.

I am here today to share my success story after doing this workshop earlier in the year.
Firstly a bit about my drinking history.I have always been a heavy drinker. I never allowed myself to drink during the week but I would cram it in at the weekend. It felt like ground hog day on Monday morning waking up hungover ,depressed and tearful. I would often take my daughter to school then go back to bed as there was no one around to witness it.Whereas over the weekend I had to put on a brave face and carry on even though I felt awful – it was exhausting .
Another problem that went with the hangovers was binge eating . I would wake up and find wrappers of stuff I had forgotten I had eaten and because I was hungover I would binge on crap all day.
I knew I wasn’t a normal drinker as I was always the first to finish my drink,trying to slow down in case people noticed or pouring an extra glass in secret. Towards the end of my drinking I would share a bottle of wine with my husband but have an open bottle of wine in the garage to have an extra couple of glasses as half a bottle wasn’t enough.On Sunday I would persuade my husband to eat out so I could have more wine because  if we stayed in he would felt it unnecessary to drink wine if we had been drinking the night before. I would come home Sunday afternoon have an extra couple of glasses in secret then collapse on the sofa missing out on valuable family time.Funny thing is my husband doesn’t think I have a drinking problem he just thinks I am a bit greedy with wine.My heavy drinking friends also tell me there’s nothing wrong with my drinking. My closest friend said she preferred me when I was a drinker as I am quieter now and go home earlier when they start to sound pissed. It doesn’t matter if I am told I am a normal drinker as they are not the ones in bed on Monday crying.
I am not sure if I am an alcoholic but even if I am the label doesn’t matter. Also when or how much you drink doesn’t matter – if it feels like a problem then it is a problem.
My aunt has one glass of wine a day but says she could never have a day without . To me one glass is nothing but she is still alcohol dependent so maybe she could be classed as an alcoholic – who cares ?
In the past I have tried to moderate my drinking by only allowing myself a couple of drinks or just drinking beer etc.but nothing worked. I found the amount of head space it took up very draining.I have read books and even done Allen Carr’s Stop Drinking Workshop twice ( £299 a day now) but still went back to drinking. At the end of his workshop they do a bit of hypnotherapy telling us we are now non drinkers. When I asked about follow up support he said I won’t need it as I was now a non drinker and that was that!
However after doing Louise’s workshop I feel different this time as if something has clicked into place – the final piece of jig-saw I needed.
I found it a good balance of medical information and psychological support . I had a follow up chat and I emailed her daily on my first boozy holiday with friends. I also think becoming a Club Soda member has been fantastic,I regularly read blogs and look at their Facebook page. I have a Club Soda Buddy who I email regularly. I don’t feel abnormal anymore.
I feel so much happier and have more energy at weekends to live a full life with my family. I have started a bit of jogging ( fast walking ! ) and lost some weight which is a bonus.I still have times where I want a drink but it really helps to play the tape forward and remember how I will feel the next day. I have to be aware of my triggers- the worst for me are pre-dinner drinks .
My 24 year old daughter spoke to me a few weeks ago and said how proud she is of me. I feel guilty as I have encouraged her to drink with me in the past so I won’t look so bad.  What a terrible example. She is having September off drinking and said she is feeling fantastic and that I was her inspiration. I felt emotional and proud of how well I am doing.
I don’t feel a victim to my old drinking and want to move forward. I thought about going to AA but feel they are stuck in the problem depending on meetings but you have to do whatever works for you.
Thank you Louise and Laura you are life savers – literally .
It seems only appropriate to share this today as it is also the one year anniversary of the launch of my Udemy online course which has now had over 450 people sign up.  I am so pleased with its success to date and have all of you to thank for that 🙂  Thank you!

Alcohol Awareness Week

This year’s Alcohol Awareness Week runs from 16th to 22nd November.

alcohol awareness




Local authorities and other organisations, from pharmacies to treatment service providers, get involved to raise awareness of alcohol issues and the impact it can have on our health and communities. Look out for local activities in your area.

The theme of this year’s awareness week is “The impact of alcohol on our society”. During the week Alcohol Concern will be running their annual conference. To book places and view the agenda please click here.   Lucy Rocca* from Soberistas is involved in both a panel discussion in the morning and an afternoon workshop looking at online support 🙂

Alcohol Concern has a limited number of alcohol awareness materials for available for organisations to use during the week. Please get in touch via

*Lucy was also featured on ITV’s This Morning and in the Daily Mail recently:

When’s your wine o’clock? ITV footage
My ‘wine o’clock’ habit ended in A&E: Single mother reveals how having just one glass a night soon became an unhealthy addiction Daily Mail article

Edited to add: 17/11/2015

Alcohol Awareness Week – Gary’s Story

For Alcohol Awareness Week, we’ll be bringing you new information every day about alcohol misuse, and stories from people who’ve recovered from it. Gary, 57, served in the army for nine years, and he now volunteers as a Peer Mentor with Right Turn, our specialised Armed Forces support service. This is his story | Addaction, UK

Europeans are world champions at drinking and smoking

world championsLevels of alcohol consumption, tobacco use, overweight, and obesity are still “alarmingly high” in Europe, a World Health Organization report has found leading the BMJ to write a a news piece where it heralded Europeans as world champions at drinking and smoking!! 🙁

Here’s the introductory and summary video for the report:

The European Health Report 20151 said that the average European adult consumed 11 litres of pure alcohol a year, nearly two thirds (59%) were overweight or obese, and nearly a third (30%) used tobacco. WHO’s European region had the highest levels of alcohol consumption and tobacco use in the world and ranked only slightly behind the Americas in rates of overweight and obesity leading the BMJ to write a a news piece where it heralded Europeans as world champions at drinking and smoking!! 🙁

The prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults in Europe ranged from 45% in Tajikistan to 67% in Andorra. The United Kingdom had the sixth highest prevalence of obesity in WHO’s European region, at 62%.

The report is published every three years and covers the 53 member states of WHO’s European region.

To read the overview go here

To downlad the full report go to :

There’s even an app!

The European health statistics app

Good god – world leaders at abusing ourselves with food, drink and fags.  Is that something to be proud of??  I’m not so sure myself ……..

Students call for universities to take action against drunken sexual harassment

Freshers week is now well and truly over for this year and prior to the university academic year starting this year this piece appeared in The Independent.

High numbers of students are experiencing drunken sexual harassment on nights out while at university – yet feel as though they can’t turn to staff for support, according to an alcohol education charity.

Drinkaware interviewed just over 2,000 students to find 54 per cent of females and 14 per cent of males had received inappropriate sexual comments, abuse, or inappropriate sexual touching on a night out in the last 12 months.

46 per cent admitted they do not know their university’s stance on drunken sexual harassment, and only 34 per cent felt very confident their institution would believe them if they reported an incident. Startlingly, only one per cent said they told university authorities, student welfare, or counsellors, adding how they’d rather tell a friend or partner.

Now though, three quarters of respondents say universities should take disciplinary action against perpetrators, with over half (61 per cent) wanting their university to campaign against it. Another 56 per cent say there should be counselling for those affected.

CEO of Drinkaware, Elaine Hindal, described how students have told the charity time and again that drunken sexual harassment is a common and unwelcome part of their night out – yet they don’t feel empowered to stand up to it.

She said: “Touching another person in a sexual way without their consent is legally defined as sexual assault. It’s a criminal offence and being drunk is no excuse for it.”

Highlighting how universities are well placed to support students who have experienced unwanted sexual attention – and to campaign against it – Ms Hindal added: “That’s why we’re encouraging universities and young adults to reinforce the message that if a behaviour isn’t acceptable sober, it isn’t acceptable drunk.”

The charity’s research has been revealed on the day it launches its You Wouldn’t Sober, You Shouldn’t Drunk campaign which aims to address sexual harassment – like groping and inappropriate sexual banter – which many young adults say they often experience when out.

Launching in cinemas across the North West of England, the public is being invited to join in with the conversation at #GropeFreeNights.

If you, or someone you know, has been affected by any of the issues in this article, help and support is available here.

And then to support the cause further this more recently appeared in the The Telegraph

Drunk’ Spanish woman exposes predatory men.

A YouTube video depicting an actress pretending to be drunk on the busy streets of Madrid – and being approached by a series of men who attempt to grope, harass and kiss her.

I’ve been groped many times when out at night but the last man’s behaviour in this video left me speechless …….

What do you think?



Joint Strategic Needs Assessment resources for alcohol, drugs and tobacco

Sometimes I really struggle to know what my voice is here on the blog as I get pulled between personal anecdotal stuff and professionally driven information which I understand some of you may feel a bit dry.  I think I may be trying to be all things to all people and not doing a very good job, although After Party Magazine disagree having placed my endeavours in their 20 Best Recovery Blogs.

Here is one of those latter pieces of information which is vital to professionals but probably yawn inducing in you 🙂

joint-strategic-needs-assessment-2-728For those of you interested firstly we need to ascertain what a joint strategic needs assessment is and here’s a nifty definition from NHS Camden in London 🙂

As you can see although the subject may appear on the surface dull it is actually vital as it informs commissioning of services, be that NHS, private or third sector.

As part of their public health remit, local authorities are responsible for commissioning tobacco control, alcohol and drug interventions and services. This joint strategic needs assessment (JSNA) support pack – updated annually and in its fourth year – will help local areas to develop JSNAs and local joint health and wellbeing strategies, which effectively address public health issues relating to alcohol, drug and tobacco use. Last year’s JSNA support pack was reviewed by local authority stakeholders. Their comments have been used to develop this year’s support pack.

The pack covers four topics:
1. Alcohol harm prevention, treatment and recovery for adults
2. Drug prevention, treatment and recovery for adults
3. Tobacco control
4. Young people’s drug, alcohol and tobacco use.

For each of these topics, there are two documents:
1. A series of good practice evidence-based prompts to help local areas assess need, plan and commission effective services and interventions
2. Key data for each local area to help them commission effective prevention, treatment and recovery services and interventions.

The support pack documents can be downloaded here. The data packs here are examples without data. Local areas have been sent their tailored data packs. Copies of the alcohol, drug and young people’s data packs can also be downloaded from (report viewer) from the end of October 2015. Queries should be sent to Tobacco control data packs can be obtained by contacting your local PHE centre tobacco control lead or by emailing

Alcohol harm prevention, treatment and recovery for adults: JSNA support pack
Good practice prompts for planning comprehensive interventions in 2016-17
Key data for planning effective alcohol harm prevention, treatment and recovery in 2016-17

Young people’s alcohol, drug and tobacco use: JSNA support pack
Good practice prompts for planning comprehensive interventions in 2016-17
Key data for planning effective young people’s specialist substance misuse interventions in 2016-17

A slide pack with infographics illustrating the case for local investment in alcohol and drug prevention, treatment and recovery is also available. This has been updated for 2015 to reflect the latest data.
Alcohol and drugs prevention, treatment and recovery: why invest?

A comprehensive review of the content and approach of these resources is planned for 2016.

They’ve also published a new guide for drug and alcohol commissioners, providers and service users on service user involvement which is also a welcome initiative 🙂

Service user involvement in drug and alcohol treatment services

I’m happy to see that PHE are advising as their national role remains important although increasingly toothless.  To reflect that shift the second component for each topic is a bespoke data pack for every local authority to support needs assessment and commissioning so that it can go from national strategy to on the ground implementation.  Any thoughts?

Plus yesterday was the launch of the 2016 Global Drug Survey.  I’ll be contributing to it and you could too 🙂  Go here to find out more:

GDS2016 – The Biggest Drug Survey Ever – video

What happens to cancer risk after a person stops drinking alcohol?

This was a question asked of me by one of the community members over at Living Sober and I didn’t have the answer.  
timeline-quitting-cigarettesWe have these nifty charts for smoking that tell us clearly but not a great deal exists for drinking and alcohol.
They kindly shared what they had found:
What happens to cancer risk after a person stops drinking alcohol?

Most of the studies that have examined whether cancer risk declines after a person stops drinking alcohol have focused on head and neck cancers and on esophageal cancer. In general, these studies have found that stopping alcohol consumption is not associated with immediate reductions in cancer risk; instead, it may take years for the risks of cancer to return to those of never drinkers.

For example, a pooled analysis of 13 case-control studies of cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx combined found that alcohol-associated cancer risk did not begin to decrease until at least 10 years after stopping alcohol drinking. Even 16 years after they stopped drinking alcohol, the risk of cancer was still higher for ex-drinkers than for never drinkers.

In several studies, the risk of esophageal cancer was also found to decrease slowly with increasing time since stopping alcohol drinking. A pooled analysis of five case–control studies found that the risk of esophageal cancer did not approach that of never drinkers for at least 15 years after stopping alcohol drinking.

Rehm J, Patra J, Popova S. (2007) Alcohol drinking cessation and its effect on esophageal and head and neck cancers: a pooled analysis. International Journal of Cancer ;121(5):1132-1137.

And then I went looking for more.  Newer research I came across via Google Scholar was this:

For alcohol use, a beneficial effect on the risk of head and neck cancer was only observed after ≥20 years of quitting (OR 0.60, CI 0.40–0.89 compared with current drinking), reaching the level of never drinkers.

Marron, M et al (2010) Cessation of alcohol drinking, tobacco smoking and the reversal of head and neck cancer risk, International Journal of Epidermiology. 39 (1): 182-196 doi: 10.1093/ije/dyp291

As I suspected though there is very little research into this area so far.  Be interesting to revisit the question in a year or two’s time to see if more new research is being published which I suspect it will.  If you find any can you forward it my way?  Thanks 🙂

Friday Sober Jukebox – Ghosts

So a couple of weeks  ago it was my 3rd sober birthday.  Drinking is now not a thought that enters my mind.  Chocolate yes, booze no.

it's my party and i'll cry if i want toNow I feel really uncomfortable saying this as it feels really ungrateful but I hate my birthday.  It’s not about my age and the passing of years it’s because I feel that I should be happy like Clare Grogan in Altered Images Happy Birthday and actually I usually feel  all Lesley Gore It’s My Birthday and I’ll Cry If I Want To.

It’s not about that day – we had a lovely time despite me feeling as rough as a badgers arse because of a heavy cold.  There was no point eating cake as I couldn’t taste anything 🙁

It’s because birthday’s are so conflicted for me and one of the days that I usually really went off the deep end with my drinking was THIS day.  Of all the days that I self-medicated the most about, it was this one.  Which is why it’s taken 3 years for the feelings around this subject to become clear which led to lots of tears and finally an understanding of why I felt so sad on my birthday despite desperately trying to appear really happy and upbeat, cos’ that’s how you’re supposed to be right?

As you know from last Friday’s sober jukebox I’ve been doing some deep emotional excavation and processing some heavy shit since going back into therapy as part of my post grad studies.  You also know that it involves family and trauma which links it to my birth, and hence my birthday.  Let’s just say there were some rejection and abandonment issues when I was a baby and then trauma as a pre-verbal toddler.  My way to deal with that (and other stuff) was to shut down my body and stay in my head.  It’s why I collected book-marks as a child and was such a book-worm – I could escape into my head and the stories (I find safety in books which I suspect also fuels my academic striving).  I became literally disembodied.  Well all that healing work means I’m experiencing some embodiment once more and can no longer deny how I feel in my body, which includes my heart.  It roared back to life and felt like it was breaking in two with sadness this birthday as all the stuff I tried to block out with booze made its presence felt.

I know this is necessary and it will ease with time, and I have the lovely Mr HOF and my kids who hugged me hard that day, but god damn it sometimes this recovery stuff sucks.  I’m hoping that this is the start of some more peaceful birthdays now that I feel like I’ve acknowledged the ghosts and laid them to rest.  Which allows me to finish off on one of my favourite tunes and showcase some Old Grey Whistle Test to boot 😉 David Sylvian, circa 1982 ……

Edited to add: 07/11/2015 As I’m posting only every other day now this is up on a Saturday morning and I wanted to share this.  Firstly to say that not all of recovery is hard work and doom and gloom and that those difficult feelings do pass.  Secondly to revel in the joy that is a Saturday morning without a hangover that allows me to watch this and laugh my arse off.  Thanks Drake for the Hotline Bling track and my kind of dancing 😉 and for this brilliant meme 🙂



Offer support not stigma

Blenheim has submitted a response to Dame Carol Black’s independent review into the impact on employment outcomes of drug or alcohol addiction and obesity that recommends support not stigma.

social-stigmaOffer support not stigma





Blenheim has submitted a response to Dame Carol Black’s independent review into the impact on employment outcomes of drug or alcohol addiction and obesity.

The response used evidence from an evaluation of Blenheim’s ETE service in Kensington & Chelsea which included key messages from service users about their needs and the barriers they face in gaining employment.

The key points raised the in response are;

  • ETE services specialising in working with those with substance misuse related unemployment work most effectively when integrated into or very closely aligned to the substance misuse treatment system.”
  • Many clients feedback their experience of feeling ashamed and stigmatised when accessing JCP/DWP. This was felt to lead to some not being “open and honest” about complex health and social issues and therefore missing out on additional help through “fear of repercussions.”
  • In one of the focus groups the ‘benefits’ system received 0/5 for understanding and there was general agreement that the mental health issues linked to addiction were not understood.
  • Many people that access treatment for drug and/or alcohol misuse do so when life has reached a crisis. Many of our clients have either no housing or insecure housing. This alone is a barrier to employment since employers require an address.
  • Prejudice is a serious barrier to employment for those with substance misusing histories and inclusion of this in the Equality Act would demonstrate a government commitment to supporting the recovery and reintegration of drug and alcohol misusers into the wider community.

“People enter substance misuse treatment with a wide range of health and social needs. These need to be addressed alongside building motivation and aspiration for sustainable change. Drug and alcohol users are not a homogenous group. People are drawn to misusing substances from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences and possess a broad range of skills, abilities and talents. For some these need to be re-discovered and all skills and talents need careful nurture. Those best placed to assist this process are specialist substance misuse/ETE practitioners.

Sanctioning those who choose not to take up treatment options runs the risk of claimants not claiming, not accessing treatment and moving further into the margins of society. This not only further damages the individual and their families; it robs communities of the additional skills, experiences and resources brought by recovering substance misusers.”

You can read the full response here – Dame Carol Black Consultation August 2015

Hear hear Blenheim, well said 🙂